Article Date: 2/1/2007

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Coping Mechanisms
One very special patient encounter taught me that the real key to survival is one's attitude.

As optometrists, we encounter several patients throughout the day, making many of them forgettable. That is, until we come in contact with a patient who imparts a valuable experience, memory or life-lesson we can apply to our own life. I met such a patient more than a year ago. This is my story. . .

Bifocal lenses for baby boomer

A 63-year-old woman wearing spectacles presented to have her eyes examined for contact lens use. She was currently in a pair of progressive ophthalmic lenses prescribed by her former eyecare practitioner. (This patient came to see me due to changes in her insurance policy.) She mentioned she was tired of wearing glasses for her vision needs and that she was interested in trying a pair of bifocal contact lenses she recently heard about.

Deadly diagnosis

In reviewing this patient's history, my eyes froze on a sentence she wrote regarding a diagnosis of terminal cervical cancer. I immediately expressed to her my sympathy, at which time she confided her primary-care physician told her she had less than nine months to live. The look on my face must have been one of sadness and despair, as I am not very good at keeping a poker face. Then, as if to comfort me, this patient reassured, "Although I am only 63, I have lived a full life."

After I confided in her that my uncle passed away the previous year as a result of colon cancer and how scary the prevalence of this disease has become in our society, she divulged some details of her life, which included her children and her few grandchildren, among other topics. This patient described to me a life filled with love, laughter and hardship.

In addition, she said the moment she was given her terminal sentence was the moment she decided to continue living as if she had another 30 years. This patient said she was able to maintain her sanity regarding her diagnosis by continuing with her daily routine, which included waking up, having breakfast with her husband, doing chores around the house, running errands and pondering what to make for dinner. (She and her husband were both retired at this point in their lives.)

I fit this patient in a pair of bifocal contact lenses, and she presented a few weeks later for a follow-up appointment. At this visit, she reported doing very well in her new lenses and thanked me for my services. In addition, she scheduled a six-month follow-up appointment with us. Unfortunately, I didn't have the privilege of seeing this patient six months later, as I practice with several other optometrists and was scheduled to see another patient that day. Still, I wondered which one of my colleagues saw her for the appointment, so I looked into her patient record. I became engulfed in sadness when I saw that this patient never presented for her six-month follow-up appointment.

To this day, I value my encounter with this patient because she taught me that the greatest tool we, as people, have been given in life is our ability to cope


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS



Optometric Management, Issue: February 2007